Fifteen years ago, Chris Nimmo became one of the first employees of Daisy Chain after he was brought to the farm for a visit by a friend who knew the founder Lesley Hanson.

He recalls, "It was a real privilege to get the full-on Lesley spiel about the farm even though then there was just the farmhouse, a couple of outbuildings and fields. Lesley was so inspiring, she could have been the greatest salesperson in the world, you just couldn’t help but want to get involved. It was very definitely just roll up your sleeves and muck in time."

Before being employed, Chris had done some volunteering work at the farm and recalls, "We got the first two goats, Billy and Ariane, and spent some time trying to work out what to do with them. We planned the first boat race which I took part in and sourced prizes for.

"At the time, I was working in car sales and very used to talking to businesses so Lesley wanted me to be part of the team on the corporate side. By that time, I had fallen in love with the place and wanted to spend more time there."

Chris started as a fundraising co-ordinator for Daisy Chain and remembers his time on the farm with wry humour. "I would be in my suit ready to go out and talk to businesses about corporate support and then find myself in the farmyard trying to catch geese and donkeys which had escaped from their enclosures."

The original plans for the day centre, Chris says, was to have a soft play, office and reception, "But we looked at the steel frame and thought it wouldn’t be difficult or cost much more to make it a lot bigger and we set off organising a lot of events to raise money, including the Buy a Brick campaign."

Although Chris moved on from Daisy Chain to professional pastures new, he has always continued to support the charity, himself becoming a corporate supporter as part of the Friends of Daisy Chain networking group. Over the years he has taken part in the Great North Run, undertaken a sky dive, completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks and the Cleveland Four Peaks, abseiled and bungee jumped to raise funds.

Now, in Daisy Chain’s fifteenth anniversary year, he has decided to take on a big event to celebrate - a 15-peak challenge – the Welsh 3000s Challenge. The challenge is to climb the 15 mountains which are over 3,000 feet in 24 hours or less. Including the walk to and from the finish, it is about 30 miles in total and takes in Mount Snowdon.

"I try to do a challenge for Daisy Chain as often as I can, some easier than others. I thought it had to be something special in this fifteenth anniversary year and the Welsh 3000s Challenge with 15 peaks seemed the perfect option."

Chris remembers just how inspiring Lesley was, "Lesley didn’t set up the charity because Jacob was diagnosed with autism because she had a great network of support but she saw other families and friends, some single parents, who were struggling and that is where the idea for Daisy Chain came from. Now seeing what the charity does today to help families is truly amazing.

"In the early days, I went to a lot of groups and organisations to talk about autism. I had to learn about it very quickly and that was in a time when not as much was known generally about it. Daisy Chain was already helping families and there were lots of people volunteering, it was real learning experience."

The farm was also a real learning experience but Chris recalls getting lots of help from the local DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) representative. "It was reassuring to have that support, we needed it. There was always something going on.

"What really affected me was the support group for the parents. We would get experts in from other organisations to talk to them and they were so grateful to have somewhere to go and get support and advice. Having other people to talk to was, and still is, so important as well as being able to share practical advice. The children were so much more relaxed too when they were at the farm and the parents weren’t anxious in case they had a ‘moment’.

"Daisy Chain is the place people feel they can leave their children in the hands of experts who can deal with autistic traits. I asked one mum what she was going to do in the couple of hours respite she had and she said she was going to have an hour in the bath and relax. It struck me as such a little thing that other people would take for granted but it meant so much to her.

"We also very quickly realised that brothers and sisters were carers too and the Sibz group became something just for them to have some fun and time for themselves alongside other children who had similar experiences."

Although Daisy Chain has grown in response to demand, Chris says, "The vision and welcoming feel of the place remains the same. There is still that tangible desire to help families affected by autism and it has been very influential in helping people have more understanding of autism. Daisy Chain is still true to Lesley’s vision and the core values it was founded on."

Now Chris, who currently manages Gloucester House and Beaumont House office space in Stockton and works with telecoms business Reefstream and CCTV installations, just has to fit in the time to get in training for his Daisy Chain 15th anniversary summer challenge.

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